ED MONK: A messy election result could deliver at least one benefit - a Pensions Minister who actually wants the job
Raising the bar: Mr Webb has proved an effective Pensions Minister.
It's looking increasingly likely that no one will be satisfied when the dust settles on the 2015 election.
A result based on current polling would mean the party with the greatest number of seats won't have enough support to pass any laws.
That would leave - after weeks of bitter arguments - the second placed party to take charge at the head of a mishmash of formal and informal coalitions with junior parties, all of whom will have their red lines and be ready to use them when they feel an advantage can be extracted.
But the constitutional mess at least makes one outcome more likely - Steve Webb may continue as Minister of State for Pensions.
A Liberal Democrat, Mr Webb was appointed at the start of the Coalition Government in 2010, working as junior partner to his Conservative Cabinet counterpart Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Like all Lib Dems this time round, Mr Webb faces a fight for even his own seat, but as things stand the party again looks a potential coalition partner for whoever forms the next Government.
As the political pundits fret about another likely coalition, Mr Webb has been an advert for two-party Government. He has forged his own profile separate from the Secretary of State in a way that predecessors in his role have not. He has been the face of pension policy, leaving Mr Duncan Smith to wrestle with the welfare brief.
The sheer length of his tenure marks him out compared to previous incumbents. I remember attending a DWP pensions event in 2004 where Alan Johnson, then recently appointed as Work and Pensions Secretary, was speaking.
Nodding to the fact his predecessors tended to be short lived in the role, he joked: 'Hello, I'm this week's Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.' He was gone six months later.
In fact, prior to 2010 the ministerial partnership in charge of pensions changed every single year going back to 1997, with two changes in each of 1999, 2005 and 2008, and only one year of stability in 2000. (See below.)
The sense has been that, faced with perhaps the most technical brief in Government, politicians have seen the post as a stepping stone for more glamorous jobs elsewhere. However, Mr Webb has turned this on its head and has fronted some of the most significant changes made by the Government during this Parliament.
Barely more than a year ago, regulators were plodding through another review of the sickly annuities market. Savers were getting a terrible deal and repeated attempts to make providers compete had faltered.
Just as the same old leeches were about to be applied to the patient the Government broke out the defibrillators, announcing that retirees would no longer have to buy the products at all and could get at their savings in a variety of other ways.
We've still got a way to go before pension companies can provide the systems and products to allow the pension freedom reforms to work for the full benefit of the majority of savers, and attention should be paid to the experience of other countries that have made similar changes to avoid their pitfalls.
However, the intent is impressive and it took a minister confident and knowledgeable in his brief to achieve it. This is ambitious policy-making that other areas, such as housing, are crying out for.
A call went up recently from pension industry bodies for the creation of a permanent Pensions Commission to reduce the temptation of politicians to make damaging short-term changes to the system. Previous temporary Commissions have been responsible for important improvements, such as the auto-enrolment into pensions of all workers.
I can understand the urge but would worry that such a body would make dynamic change, as we have seen in the past year, more difficult to achieve. I suspect a motivation of some of those behind the calls for a Commission is to fight back against further possible cuts to the tax relief that high earners get on their pension.
You can argue the rights and wrongs of such as a decision, but not really that it should be taken away from elected politicians.
After years of instability at government level, pensions at least now has a minister who wants the job and understands the brief. Will the election deliver a result that keeps him there?
REVOLVING DOOR: THE INS AND OUTS OF PENSION POLITICIANS
May 1997: Harriet Harman: Secretary of State for Social Security / Frank Field: Minister of State for Welfare Reform
July 1998: Alastair Darling: Secretary of State for Social Security / John Denham: Minister for Pensions
January 1999: Alastair Darling: Secretary of State for Social Security / Stephen Timms: Minister for Pensions
July 1999: Alastair Darling: Secretary of State for Social Security / Jeff Rooker: Pensions Minister
May 2001: Alastair Darling: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Ian McCartney: Pensions Minister
May 2002: Andrew Smith: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Ian McCartney: Pensions Minister
June 2003: Andrew Smith: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Malcolm Wicks: Pensions Minister
September 2004: Alan Johnson: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Malcolm Wicks: Pensions Minister
May 2005: David Blunkett: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Stephen Timms: Pensions Minister
November 2005: John Hutton: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Stephen Timms: Minister for Pensions Reform
May 2006: John Hutton: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / James Purnell: Minister for Pensions Reform
June 2007: Peter Hain: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Mike O'Brien: Minister for Pensions Reform
January 2008: James Purnell Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Mike O'Brien Minister for Pensions Reform
October 2008: James Purnell: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Rosie Winterton: Minister for Pensions Reform
June 2009: Yvette Cooper: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Angela Eagle: Minister for Pensions Reform
May 2010: Iain Duncan Smith: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions / Steve Webb: Minister for Pensions
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